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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 65.djvu/260

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256
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

subjected to fines, to the lash and to the galleys. In case of a second conviction they were sometimes hanged. The peasant was prohibited from using salt a second time. The brine from meat or fish had to be thrown away; it could not be used in the kitchen or taken to the stables for the cattle. It was illegal for any one to make salt from sea-water even for his own use, and equally illegal to water animals with natural brine. To prevent tanners and leather-dressers, who employed salt in their industries, from putting it to any other use the salt farmers often poisoned it. Owing to the large number of different governments in Germany and owing to some divergencies in matters of internal administration, one can not make a statement on this point that is applicable to the entire country. But in view of the strong inclination of many of the German monarchs to ape French customs, especially the bad ones, it is safe to say that the salt monopoly in the empire was quite as oppressive as in France. It may be added that on the whole the French peasant was not as badly treated as his German brother; the former first shook off much of the burden by drastic means from causes that need not be considered here. So late as 1840 a sort of salt conscription was enforced in Saxony which required each family to buy a certain quantity of it and prohibited its sale to a second party. In Prussia a similar regulation was abolished in 1816. Salt was a government monopoly in the greater part of Germany until 1867, as it still is in Austria, Italy and some other countries. In Austria all salt works belong to the government; such was also the case in some other south German states until recently. It likewise owns all salt-yielding territory. At present there is a general revenue law for the empire and a duty on the foreign product. It is therefore a good deal cheaper in the German than in the Austrian empire. While it is doubtful whether any article of consumption has so long afforded governments a means of oppressing their subjects as salt, and while its history makes an interesting though rather gruesome chapter in political economy, it is, nevertheless, unfair to judge the ruling powers of the past by contemporary standards. Until comparatively recent times economic laws were so little understood and rulers were always so hard pressed for money that they were constrained to resort to such measures for raising revenue as promised the largest and most certain returns. In the nature of the case a commodity in such demand as salt had to bear a disproportionate share of the public burdens. Cruel and inhuman methods of legal procedure were the order of the day, and those who suffered from it did not themselves know any better way of attaining the ends in view. It is greatly to the credit of the English people that their jury system did much to mitigate the penalties to which many a transgressor against the revenue laws as against other laws made himself liable. Though juries could not change the statutes, they